3.7. The Death of a Young girl

From the subject matter of Pearl we might infer that the Gawain-Poet either had a daughter of his own who died at an early age - less than two - or, equally possibly, that his patron had a similar experience.


Ho watz me nerre þen aunte or nece (233)
Art þou my perle þat I haf playned, (242)
Regretted by myn one on nyȝte? (243)
Þat is in cofer so comly clente (259)
A juel to me þen watz þys geste (277)
I watz ful ȝong and tender of age (412)
Þou lyfed not two ȝer in oure þede (483)


It is not clear from the text of Pearl how, or even if, the young girl is related to the dreamer.  She is referred to as “faunt” (faunt is also a noble lady) (Pearl, 161) and “gyrle” (Pearl, 205), but never as daughter.  Wilson [WILSON76] refers to the possibility of Pearl being the daughter of a patron.  In the strict sense the relationship: “watȝ me nerre than aunte or nece”, (Pearl, 233) would imply a close blood relationship (consanguinity), but could also be construed as “more dearly loved and closer to me than aunt or niece”.  It is clear that the girl is very young, “not two ȝer in oure þede” (Pearl, 483), and because of her youth the poet is concerned about her fate in heaven.  He refers to her as: “my lytel quene” (Pearl, 1147).  Again “quene” could be taken literally or as a term of endearment.  She is “A mayden of menske, ful debonere” (Pearl, 162), and the girl addresses him in the manner of a queen to a commoner (Pearl, 409,411), but she also removes her crown on meeting him (Pearl, 236-8) and, as Wilson [WILSON76] (p.23) points out, children would remove their caps in the presence of a superior (father or tutor.)

Whilst it is always possible that James Cottrell and Anne de Ufford had a daughter who died young, it is certain that Philippa had a daughter, her first-born child Branca, born 13 July 1388 who died in 1389.  In his position and his close relationship with Philippa, the poem Pearl would have been a very appropriate gift to the queen to console her and assure her of her first child's position in heaven.  “Branca” is also Portuguese for white, the colour of pearl.  It would have been particularly appropriate for James Cottrell to have referred to Branca as “my lytel quene”.  The relationship between Philippa and James Cottrell presents some interesting possibilities.  Philippa had only recently arrived in Portugal, she must have been still struggling with the language and she was mourning the death of her first-born.  She must surely have relied heavily upon her Mordomo-Mór (James Cottrell.) who was responsible for the organisation of her household and who was married to (or about to marry) one of her ladies in waiting, Ana Canas de Urofol (probably Anne de Ufford).